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Designation Guidelines

What is a Cultural District?
A cultural district is a specific geographical area in a city or town that has a concentration of cultural facilities, activities, and assets. It is a walkable, compact area that is easily identifiable to visitors and residents and serves as a center of cultural, artistic and economic activity. The Massachusetts Cultural Council recognizes that each community is unique and that no two cultural districts will be alike.

Who Can Apply?
Any city or town in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts is eligible to apply for designation of a cultural district. The city or town, after identifying a specific geographic area, must establish a partnership with other organizations and stakeholders. Cities or towns may apply for more than one cultural district but each designation must be applied for separately.

Cultural Districts Goals:
The statute that created cultural districts has specific goals. They are:

  1. Attract artists and cultural enterprises
  2. Encourage business and job development
  3. Establish the district as a tourist destination
  4. Preserve and reuse historic buildings
  5. Enhance property values
  6. Foster local cultural development.

See the legislation for the Massachusetts Cultural Districts Initiative.

Length of Designation:
A cultural district designation will be in effect for 5 years and renewed upon successful compliance with annual reporting requirements in prior years, and a recommitment by the city or town to continue their cultural districts work.

Cultural District Partnership
The applicant must be a city or town's chief elected official. A city or town municipal department may be the contact for the application.

Prior to submitting an application, the city or town must form a cultural district partnership. The partnership must be comprised of a diverse mix of organizations that represent the interests of the district. The majority of organizations in the partnership must be located in the district.

At least one cultural organization that is incorporated in Massachusetts must be in the partnership. Cultural organizations located outside the geographic boundaries of the district may be involved in the partnership but must provide programming on a regular basis within the district's boundaries. Organizations that represent artists in the community must be included as partners.

Other types of partners may include: not-for-profit organizations; private for-profit businesses; funding agencies; educational and faith-based institutions; and regional, state, and federal agencies.

The partnership must have a governance structure. The management responsibility may be assigned to one of the partners or partner entities by the city or town. The entity must be a good match for the assignment and have the capacity to lead the partnership. Existing entities may be a Main Streets program, Empowerment Zone, Historic District, Business Improvement District or existing Cultural District partnership. There must be a written agreement between the city or town and the designated partner that outlines the responsibilities of each party.

The MCC fully expects that cities and towns will be at varying stages in the development of their cultural district strategies and partnerships. Use the Cultural Districts Readiness Wizard to see if you are ready to apply.

Resolution by the City/Town
Any city or town applying for a state-designated cultural district must hold a public hearing with adequate notice regarding the proposed district and pass a resolution making a commitment to establishing a state-designated cultural district.

Resources for Cultural Districts
For cities and towns that choose to pursue cultural district designation, the Massachusetts Cultural Council (MCC) will provide a framework for how to assemble a public and private partnership, how to develop district goals, how to map the relevant assets within the district, how to identify public resources and planning tools that compliment the district and practices for marketing the district.

In addition, the Massachusetts Cultural Council offers a number of funding programs that might benefit the planning and implementation of your cultural district. Each program offers a combination of financial and/or technical resources to support the development of your cultural district's goals, and the implementation of your plan. If you are not familiar with the MCC's programs, please click on the links below for more information. MCC program staff is available for consultation for each program. The programs include: The Adams Art Program, Cultural Facilities Fund, Local Cultural Council Program and ArtistLink.

The legislation includes no new funds for 2012, so the cultural districts initiative will offer no grants or other financial rewards to communities, at least for the time being.

The MCC has identified state agencies whose programs and services may benefit your cultural districts. Each state agency is available to discuss the plan for your cultural district and to discuss whether their initiatives are appropriate for your district's plan of action. Some additional programs and services include: strategic community planning, marketing and promotion, historic property stewardship, way finding signage, open space programming, and economic development.

The following is a partial list of programs and services available to cultural districts. More details on Massachusetts Resources for Cultural Districts.

Program Resources

Massachusetts Cultural Council:

Other State Agencies:

Marketing and promotion Massachusetts Office of Travel and Tourism
Historic designation Mass Historic Commission
Community planning Department of Housing and Community Development
Economic development Executive Office of Housing and Economic Development
Open space and recreation Department of Conservation and Recreation
Signage Department of Transportation

What Types of Activity Take Place in a Cultural District?

Art classes and educational offeringsPublic art
Art creation and rehearsalFestivals
Art-related street vendorsFarmers Markets
Art and museum salesRestaurant Week
Demonstrations (artists at work)Open Studios
ExhibitionsGallery Nights
Literary readingsWalking Tours
Performing arts events Signature Event
Concerts 

To Be Eligible for Designation:

  • The applicant must be a city or town of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts.
  • The cultural district must have well-defined boundaries, be walkable and widely accessible.
  • The cultural district must be a geographical area of a city or town that has a concentration of cultural facilities and assets.
  • The city or town must hold a public hearing with adequate notice for public input and pass a resolution making a commitment to establishing a state designated cultural district. (See Sample Resolution.) The only exception to this criterion is if a cultural district has been established in the same geographic area in a town or community within two years of applying for state designation, in which case a public hearing and resolution is not required.
  • The city or town must establish a partnership of stakeholders prior to applying for designation that will provide oversight and management.
  • The partnership must develop a mission, goals, and marketing plan for the district.
  • The city or town must agree to participate in the state cultural districts signage program. A minimum of two (2) signs must be purchased. This may incur some costs.

Application Process
The Massachusetts Cultural Districts Initiative has a rolling application process. There are no deadlines and the program accepts applications on an ongoing basis unless otherwise noted. Cities and towns should assess their readiness to apply and allow ample time for staff to complete the application.

Most of the application is in an online format. The application also involves various documents that must be submitted by mail. All items are required for an application to be reviewed.

There are four stages to the application process:

I. Confirm Eligibility

  1. Review the designation guidelines to ensure that you understand the parameters of the Massachusetts Cultural Districts Initiative.
  2. Complete the Cultural Districts Readiness Wizard to verify program eligibility and to assess readiness to complete the full application.
  3. Contact Cultural Districts program staff to discuss any questions you may have.

II. Provide a Master Map

    Please provide 3 copies of a map that outlines the preliminary boundaries of your proposed cultural district. The map should clearly mark the boundaries of the district and identify the cultural assets. Include cultural facilities, artistic spaces, public amenities and cultural activities. You may also submit a list of the assets. The map can be created by your Redevelopment Authority, Planning Department, GIS department or you can access a web tool such as google maps to create the map.

    Submit the map by mail to:
    Cultural Districts Initiative
    Massachusetts Cultural Council
    10 St. James Avenue, 3rd floor
    Boston, MA 02116

    The Cultural Districts Initiative Manager, Meri Jenkins, will be in contact with you to discuss the map.

III. Complete the Application:

  1. Create an organizational profile to access the online application.
    (Please note: Usernames/Passwords created for previously submitted Adams and Cultural Facilities Fund applications can be used.)
  2. Complete the online Cultural Districts Designation application.
  3. Click the "final submission" button of the online application. The electronic component of your application will then be automatically received by the MCC.
  4. Mail or hand-deliver the following attachments to the MCC in the order listed:
      REQUIRED - 2 identical sets
      _____ Letter of Endorsement from Chief Elected Official

      _____ Copy of Resolution from City Council / Board of Selectmen making a commitment to establish a state designated cultural district. (See Sample Resolution)

      _____ Master Map: Please provide a map of the cultural district. The map should mark the boundaries of the district and clearly identify the cultural facilities, artistic spaces, public amenities and cultural activities located in the district The map can be created by your Redevelopment Authority, Planning Department, GIS department or you can access a web tool such as google maps to create the map.

      _____Financial Resources Worksheet: This worksheet is an opportunity for you to identify resources in the district.

      _____Third party agreement (if relevant): If the municipality has made a third party arrangement for the oversight and management of the cultural district with an organization in the district, there must be a written agreement between the municipality and the organization that outlines their responsibilities.

      _____Audited accounts (if relevant): If the municipality has made a third party arrangement for the oversight and management of the cultural district with an organization in the district, the organization must submit their most recent audited accounts.

      _____501c3 verification (if relevant): If the organization with oversight and management of the cultural district is a 501c3 incorporated in Massachusetts, the letter confirming this status must be submitted.

      _____ Official legal documentation regarding any special zoning overlays or ordinances that is relevant to the cultural district.

      _____ Marketing materials, if relevant to the cultural district.

      OPTIONAL
      _____ Reports, feasibility studies, visioning results, news articles, etc. that may have been generated regarding a proposed district.


    Cultural Districts Initiative
    Massachusetts Cultural Council
    10 St. James Avenue, 3rd floor
    Boston, MA 02116

IV. Site Visit

  1. The Massachusetts Cultural Districts Initiative staff will review the application. If it is incomplete, or ineligible, staff will contact you with further instructions.

  2. If your application is complete, staff will contact you to set up a site visit with the advisor to the Massachusetts Cultural Districts Initiative. The advisor and MCC staff will arrange a date to tour the proposed district and meet with the city/town applicant and other Cultural District partners. The meeting is an opportunity to demonstrate the district’s readiness to obtain state designation. The applicant and partners should be prepared to respond to questions about the proposed district during the meeting. Instructions on preparing for the site visit and a meeting agenda will be emailed to you prior to the visit. The advisor will create a site visit report based on the information presented and his /her observations that will be reviewed by the board of the Massachusetts Cultural Council. Learn more about what's involved in the site visit.

Review Criteria
Applications with a strong management plan; well-defined strategic goals; a plan to fully utilize local cultural assets through creative programming and marketing; and inclusion of the community’s unique history and topographic features, are likely to be the most successful.

Applications will be assessed based on the following categories:

  • Management & Budget
  • Cultural Assets
  • Public Infrastructure & Amenities
  • Marketing
  • Incentives & Evaluation

Final Decisions
The MCC staff and site advisor will make recommendations to the MCC board. The MCC Board will make all final decisions regarding state designation.

Award Process
Following the MCC board vote, your city or town will be notified of the outcome of your application by letter, usually within two weeks of a MCC board meeting.

If the application is successful, MCC staff will contact you to arrange a designation ceremony and media announcements. If the application is unsuccessful, staff will discuss next steps in the process for reapplication.

Reporting Requirements
A report will be required at the end of the first 12 months after designation and yearly thereafter.

The impact of a cultural district is tangible and measurable. In the first year, all designated cultural districts must gather the following baseline data:

  • Visitors – Track number of visitors to the district
  • Building Occupancy – Changes in occupancy rates

You must also track data that measures the impact and reflects the specific goals of your district. Examples are, but not limited to: aggregate sales tax in the district; number of full time jobs; number of artists, box office sales; consumer surveys and so on.

Proceed to the Online Application

 
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© Massachusetts Cultural Council 2014